Three people were arrested and accused of stealing the identities of seven victims of the collapse of a condominium building in Surfside, Florida, and spending an estimated $45,000 on unauthorized purchases, authorities said.
Police were first alerted to the scheme in July, about 16 days after the Champlain Towers South building was partly destroyed, when the sister of a deceased female victim said she noticed that replacement credit cards in the victim's name were requested to be mailed to a new address.
The woman also reported "multiple" unauthorized wire transfers that initiated from the victim's account to other accounts, as well as several fraudulent purchases, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said at a news conference Wednesday.
An investigation concluded that the suspects targeted five victims who died and two who survived, she said.
The suspects were identified as Betsy Alexandra Cacho Medina, Rodney Choute and Kimberly Michelle Johnson. Among the charges are organized scheme to defraud, identity theft, trafficking in credit cards and use of fictitious identification, Rundle said.
Bond was set at $1 million for Medina, $500,000 for Johnson and $430,000 for Choute. It was not clear whether they had obtained attorneys.
The suspects are accused of using the victims' information to go on exorbitant shopping sprees, including buying a pair of $374 sandals from Nordstrom, Rundle said. One of the suspects also bought a Versace purse valued at $1,658.50, she alleged.
Rundle said at the news conference that the woman who bought the purse was later seen on mall surveillance video making a $2,500 purchase at Bloomingdale's. Video played at the news conference showed the woman carrying the Versace purse as she bought what appear to be three pairs of shoes.
Rundle said police were able to obtain security camera video that connected one of the suspects to a vehicle that was registered to an apartment. Rundle said that the apartment was vacant and that the suspects used it as a "dropbox location" to receive mail while hiding their real addresses.
"These individuals appear to be very skilled identity thieves. They're professionals," Rundle said.
"Except for their names, almost nothing else about them seems to be true," she said, alleging that all three had Social Security cards with their names and fake Social Security numbers.
Rundle said that from July 7 to July 9, the suspects tried to make 28 transactions using the victims' information. In total, they stole at least $45,000 and tried to steal $65,000 more, but the transactions were rejected by security and loss prevention programs.
She alleged that the suspects also targeted other victims not connected to the building collapse.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the crimes were "abhorrent."
"I'm so very, very grateful that this great team is bringing justice to these people and helping to restore the peace and tranquility to those who were already so harmed by this tragic building collapse," she said.